The Beauty of True Order

Kathleen Raine

The beautiful, writes Kathleen Raine, is the active principle in any work of transforming power, summoning us to self-knowledge of what she describes as ‘the greater not the less’ – where the ‘truth’ of beauty rectifies and informs the formless reality – or unreality – of the everyday world. We can learn about beauty from beauty. In what would be a normal society the soul finds everywhere in the arts, in myths, in religious symbols, in all that people make and use, images expressive of the true order. This true order belongs at the centre of our very being.

Carl Jung sees this as the ground of the soul/psyche itself – so the arts have the power to hold before us images that awaken recollection of that inner homeland, which is why it comes to us as something deeply familiar. Raine writes ‘the greatest art seems always like our own thoughts made conscious’ in that we recognise when art speaks to us in this way:

‘We recognise … a world we seem always and for ever to have known. To experience such art is, as when we contemplate the beauty … a homecoming, though the way from this world to that is long and we may well fear the journey. …To transmit, to raise to consciousness this hidden order which we call “the beautiful” the arts have traditionally existed.’

Here lies the sadness of our contemporary culture, thinks Raine, with ‘its soul-destroying ills’. Art is the normal environment of the soul, the normal means for us to recollect an earlier existence [she uses the word anamnesis] and orientation. Lacking this environment, we starve ‘in the midst of quantitative plenty. What is worse, we are everywhere invaded by images of a destructive – literally a soul-destroying – nature.’ And mass communication has accustomed us to the ugly and the abnormal as it grabs our attention.

We hunger for the beautiful as an ‘order of wholes, and of wholeness’ and for Raine it is impossible to speak about beauty without speaking of form.

‘Beauty is a unity, a unification; and lyric form, as all poets know, comes from something “given”, precisely when imaginative inspiration is strongest … Lyric form is itself the supreme embodiment of archetypal order, the nearest to music and number; it is beauty itself informing words in themselves ordinary; and it cannot … be achieved by the poet writing from [their] mundane consciousness, but only in that divine madness in which [they are] possessed by the “other” mind.’

Using a certain rhythm in written creative work seems to respond to something in the soul, and Raine adds this quote from the mystic theosophist and poet AE (George Russell): ‘But if we say this we are impelled to deny the fitness of verse as utterance of any feeling, imagination or reveries which has not originated in the magic fountain.’

Here a similarity with Thomas Merton from a few posts ago, who felt that for creativity to really mean anything, it had to originate from the divine centre within – ‘the magic fountain’.